One of the key themes that resonated with many of those present at last week’s Australian Defence Magazine Congress was the evolving partnership between Defence and industry, and industry’s role as a fundamental input into capability (PDF).
I addressed this topic in my own speech as the keynote industry speaker at the Congress when I chartered the growing maturity of industry’s role over the last 20 years. I said that those of us in industry are no longer providers of commodity goods and services, but rather fundamental elements of the national security infrastructure.
Over the last two decades industry has invested in its people, processes, tools, infrastructure and capabilities to truly become trusted partners to Defence. The central point of my address was that the evolution of this partnership must not stop now.
Instead, it’s our responsibility as industry partners to ensure that we’re making the right strategic decisions to have the capabilities and the cultural orientation necessary to support the Australian Defence Force (ADF) of the future.
The next big step in capability for the ADF will be what some have called the ‘Integrated Force’. It’s a concept based not just on an aggregate of impressive products, connected by personnel, but on a truly integrated system of systems that connects individual capabilities and delivers a powerful force multiplier for the ADF.
To achieve the Integrated Force the ADF will be dependent on industry as a fundamental input to capability to deliver enduring, specialist, sovereign industry capabilities in integration and smart sustainment. This involves people, processes and tools as well as historical metrics, lessons learned (and applied), appropriate mechanisms for reviews, the corporate capabilities necessary to provide oversight and the culture of disciplined approaches to engineering and program management.
Many of these capabilities already exist within some elements of industry, and they will be vital to supporting near-term projects for the ADF. However we’ll need more capacity as we move into the 2020’s and beyond.
As part of this transformation to an Integrated Force, we must also embark upon complex integration and sustainment activities with ‘as is’ capabilities, rather than those not yet tried and tested. If we rely on ‘to be’ capabilities we are creating an extreme risk for the ADF, one that the nation and industry can’t afford to bear.
What our national interest can’t sustain is a fly-in-fly-out industry capability. Many have failed to appreciate in the past that true, sovereign industry capabilities take considerable time and investment to establish; they are quick to atrophy and require constant nurturing and development in order to remain relevant.
There will also need to be an element of mutual obligation required of industry. If Government is genuinely prepared to mandate that industry is a fundamental input into capability—with all the consequences for the provision of ongoing work that naturally flows from such a commitment—then industry must make a considerable strategic investment the likes of which many firms have failed to provide in the past in the absence of Government support.
Such investment will be essential for industry and Defence to reach a new level of maturity in our relationship.
As with any enduring relationship this will also require compromise on both sides. For its part, industry will need to take strategic decisions regarding investment or choices relating to the markets in which they should invest. In return, Defence must work with industry in strategic partnership rather than tactical transactions, and should consider industry when making decisions about posture, capability and expenditure.
For the partnership between Defence and industry to work there must be ongoing work. No company can afford the luxury of having a valuable workforce sitting on the bench waiting to get some time on the pitch. However, industry should eschew the rent-seeking behaviours displayed by some firms in the past. Industry shouldn’t expect a free ride.
The First Principles Review puts the Australian defence industry at a crossroads. We need to acknowledge the past and understand that the customer’s future requirements are changing.
The challenge for industry over the next decade will be to ensure that it has the capabilities necessary to support Defence as it acts in Australia’s evolving national security interests.